Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (Portland, OR)

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An elderly woman holds a garment in her hands, displays a broad smile while facing the camera

Vietnamese elder holds up a traditional Hmong vest brought by a fellow workshop participant as part of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization's Refugee Elder Traditional Arts Project. Photo courtesy of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization

The Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) of Portland, Oregon has been providing cultural preservation, training, interpretation, employment, and other services to Oregon immigrants and refugees for more than 25 years. IRCO has collaborated with the Oregon Folklife Program and other organizations on traditional arts projects as well, assisting immigrant artists in continuing their cultural traditions and artistic careers in the Portland area.

In FY 2003, IRCO received an NEA Challenge America: Access grant of $50,000 to support a new project: the Refugee Elder Traditional Arts Project. Working with refugee elders, an IRCO-trained team began documenting their cultural traditions to preserve them for future generations with a video and publication. From August 2003 to January 2004, team members have been interviewing elders from eight Portland-based refugee cultures (Bosnian, Hmong, Romanian, Somali, Sudanese, Ukrainian/Russian, and Vietnamese) in their homes and community settings using various tools, such as photography and audio and video recording, to document these traditional arts.

Once the collection of materials was completed, team members began editing the materials and determining the content and structure of the video and publication. In addition to the footage gathered by the team members, some of the participant refugee elders offered personal archival footage that could be incorporated into the video.

In December 2004, the final video will be given a premiere screening at an event open to the community, where the publication will be available. The video and publication also will be available as educational tools for schools, arts and international programs, and social service agencies serving refugees and seniors.

 
Worknesh Geda, an elder decorative clothing artist working in the Oromo tradition of East Africa, is interviewed by videographer consultant Libby Dawson Farr as part of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization's Refugee Elder Traditional Arts Project. Photo courtesy of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization

(From the 2003 NEA Annual Report)